"Unsettled graves: changing burial practices in conversion period Scandinavia"
The Viking Age is a period characterized by change. One of the most considerable and also most studied changes in the period is the religious conversion. The transition from pagan to Christian faith is seen as one of the most profound social changes in the history of Scandinavia and has consequently been studied from all possible perspectives. In archaeology, there has been a great deal of focus on changes in burial customs, but how well suited are burial customs for discussing faith?
Between the years 800 and 1200, burial customs in Scandinavia changed significantly. This change in practice is often presented as a shift from varied and complex pagan practices to more uniform Christian burials. The change in burial practice is seen as part of the larger narrative about the Christianization of Scandinavia.
The transition between these forms of burial customs is often presented as linear and progressive, moving towards ideal Christian practice. Separating Christian from pagan burials practices is not quite simple, however. The Christian burials are ideally supposed to be east-west oriented unfurnished inhumation graves in churchyards, but the definition of what constituted a Christian grave varies considerably between different regions in Scandinavia.
In this paper I will examine more closely one of the changes in burials practice that is supposed to be linked to conversion, the transition from cremation to inhumation graves. By examining three dual-rite cemeteries from different regions I will highlight the variations and complexities in how these rites relate to each other and assess what the results can tell us about the connection between conversion and changing funerary practices.
More about Frida Espolin Norstein
Frida Espolin Norstein received her PhD in archaeology from the University of Gothenburg in 2020 with the thesis Processing Death: Oval brooches and Viking graves in Britain, Ireland, and Iceland. She is currently working as a postdoc at Stockholm University on the project Unsettled graves: Changing funerary practices in conversion period Scandinavia (c.800-1200).